Copyright ©2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On Mondays we bring you our series, This I Believe. The 13,000 essays we've received from listeners include one from a man who says his belief doesn't matter much unless others accept it too.

He's an Arkansas lawyer and law professor, and he spoke with our series curator, Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

Michael Mullane told us, I have spent a long time not writing this essay.

He thought a personal belief was not sufficiently noteworthy. What Mullane believes in is the rule of law, and he came to recognize that the power of this individual belief is that it is commonly held.

Here's Michael Mullane with his essay for THIS I BELIEVE.

Mr. MICHAEL MULLANE (Professor of Law, University of Arkansas): (Reading) For the most part, my personal belief, or yours, for that matter, is not particularly important to society. On the other hand, our beliefs about some things are very important. These are things that are subject to the Tinkerbelle effect. That is, they exist only so long as we believe in them. One of these is the rule of law.

When you get right down to it, the rule of law only exists because enough of us believe in it and insist that everyone, even the non-believers, behave as if it exists. The minute enough of us stop believing - stop insisting that the law protect us all, and that every single one of us is accountable to the law - in that moment, the rule of law will be gone.

So I cling to my belief in the rule of law. It is probably the single greatest achievement of our society. It is our bulwark against both mob rule and the overweening power of the modern state. It is the rule of law that governs us, that protects each one of us when we stand alone against those who disagree with us, or fear us, or do not like us because we are different. It is the strongbox that keeps all of our other values safe.

The law is wonderfully strong and terribly fragile. In times of crisis and threat, there's a temptation to stop believing in the rule of law; a temptation to think that it weakens rather than protects us. We have succumbed to this temptation more than once. Within living memory, we responded to a sneak attack by interning American citizens because they, or their parents, or their grandparents, were from Japan.

In retrospect, those actions were not only unjust and morally wrong, they were unnecessary and did nothing to protect us.

The horrific events of 9/11 tempted me to think that interning people without due process might be the thing to do. Maybe we do need to sacrifice personal liberties to be safe? But, then I remember: generations of Americans bled and died to create and protect the rule of law. And I wonder, if we ignore it now, how will we ever get it back?

Like Tinkerbelle, the rule of law has been seriously injured by doubt. Those of us who believe in it must stand up and say - I must say - I believe in the rule of law and will not accept it's being taken away. I believe that we are not so weak, so impotent or so frightened, that we must give it up or perish. I believe that those few who have harmed us and who will do so again are not so powerful that we must abandon the very thing that makes it worth being an American.

ALLISON: Michael Mullane, from Arkansas, with his essay from THIS I BELIEVE.

We hope you might join the thousands of people like Mullane who have contributed their thoughts to our series. You can find out more and see all the essays we've aired at npr.org. You can also call for information, 202-408-0300.

For THIS I BELIEVE, I'm Jay Allison.

INSKEEP: The series continues next Monday on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, when we will hear an essay from one of the prosecutors at Nuremberg.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.